Needless paper work, endless unproductive committee meetings, quarterly reports that no one reads: these are some of the mind-numbingly boring activities many of us are faced with in the workplace. Is it you or is something happening in the American workplace that heaps boring and unnecessary activities on us?
In a study by J.M. Steinauer, 45% of hiring experts said firms lost top workers because they were bored with their jobs. A Washington Post survey found that 55% of all US employees were found to be ‘not engaged’ in their work and that boredom was the second most commonly suppressed emotion, followed closely by a deep-seated resentments of others.
Easy as it is to blame the workplace for our boredom, there are also personal reasons for boredom including: a sense of entitlement that we deserve better than what we have; a failure to think in the long term about our work-lives; a bad fit between our personalities and the career we’ve chosen; financial concerns and worry about a loss of benefits that keep us on jobs even though we’re bored; and poorly developed work ethics. The list of personal reasons is endless. What should we do to stop boredom from ruining our work lives when the economy may hold little promise of anything better?
Most experts believe that 25% of the work done by Americans is tedious and boring. More than 25% and workers begin to suffer. You can do your part in eliminating unnecessary aspects of the job. Meetings are a good place to start. Meetings may facilitate communications and resolve procedural issues, but they also waste time and are all too often called because a leader isn’t feeling needed, or he or she is under pressure and wants you to feel it too.
Patrick Lencioni, who coined the phrase, “death by meetings,”writes: ”bad meetings are a reflection of bad leaders. Worse yet, they take a more devastating toll on a company's success than we realize.” Lenconi believes they are bad because they lack drama, which means they are intrinsically boring. They also lack context and purpose and are often unfocused with little resolution.
Meetings, according to Lencioni, should be kept to a 5 to 10 minute daily check in, a 20 minute weekly staff meeting, and a monthly strategic meeting with no more than one or two big picture brainstorming topics, and should allow roughly two hours for each topic. Unnecessary and unproductive work should be a top priority of these meetings.
Leaders who want to control things by increasing the number of meetings are going to argue for the necessity of meetings to deal with complex issues. Your job and that of your co-workers is to make strong logical arguments that meetings often waste time, are unnecessary and lower productivity. There are always better ways to communicate needed information that leads to logical decision-making than meetings including emails, surveys and position papers, among others.
You and your coworkers can also give realistic feedback about the amount of time paperwork takes and determine whether it is really necessary and if anyone actually reads it. Making meetings productive can certainly reduce the amount of boring activities.
On a personal level, as the following workers suggest, there are many things you can do to reduce boredom (all names have been changed). Jack Bonhoff, 32, is a middle manager in the transportation industry. He told me that he gets bored easily. His way of dealing with it is to take new jobs with new responsibilities. Sometimes they require him to move but, since he’s single, he doesn’t mind.
“I like to move every couple of years,” he said. “I’m OK about changing jobs long before I get bored. If there are new things to do where I’m currently stationed, then I stay but, if not, I move. I always make more money and have the benefit of seeing new places. It’s not great on my personal life. If I ever meet someone I want to be with, I’ll stay and try to figure it all out.
Right now it works for me and it works for my employers. They get a fresh worker with new ideas and a good attitude. I get new work responsibilities, a new place to live and explore, and I make more money in the long run.”
Jim Black, 36, told me he had an awakening in his first job as a school teacher. “I was idealistic,” he said “and wanted to help kids. Teachers made all the difference when I was growing up and I wanted to give something back. I hated it after a couple of years and felt that the school system was a giant bureaucracy and that I’d never be able to do what I wanted to do in the classroom. I figured I could do the same thing in a company, got a degree in personnel management, and now teach people in my company new ways of doing their jobs. They’re engaged and appreciative. I love teaching and, with a little twist on my career choice, I’m not bored and unhappy anymore."
Linda Davis, 56, is a CPA for a large medical practice in the Texas panhandle. She told me, “I worked in my dad’s medical supply store and loved it. I had no formal training but I could tell I had a real knack for organizing and that I liked working with numbers. I was married and had two kids to raise, but I went back to school at 36 and got a degree in finance and then got my CPA. I love the work I do. I was feeling that my abilities were a lot more than the work I was doing in the medical supply store and felt my mind wandering a lot. You could say I was bored but mainly I was disappointed with myself. Like everyone, I had dreams. It took hard work and a cooperative and understanding family, but now I’m doing really difficult and important work. I never get bored. I’m at work two hours before I’m supposed to be because I’m excited to tackle the tough problems all CPAs face during the day.”
Roger Washington, 59, works in a government agency in Alabama and told me, “My job takes about two hours a day to do. I have six years before I can build up my retirement nest egg, so I have no choice but to stay. I’ve tried to change jobs numerous times but in government work they always have to keep budgets in mind and mostly the jobs I apply for evaporate, so I volunteer for everything. If someone is sick, I help do their job. If they need a committee member on an important committee, I volunteer. If they’re looking for a United Way Captain to improve the contributions in my department, I volunteer. In my own way I’m happy and the six years are going by fast. I was just asked to be part of a working group in Washington, D.C., so my wife and I get to go away for a week and enjoy some good museums and restaurants when I’m free. There are ways to stay on a boring job that actually make you happier, but you can’t feel entitled or angry. You need to be proactive, thoughtful, and try and figure out what will keep you engaged.”
Boredom can sometimes be a persistent problem that affects all aspects of our lives. If that’s the case, you may need to seek professional counseling. Pervasive boredom sometimes develops after the loss of a loved one, a serious illness, or a disappointment in life. The condition is treatable and often improves, but being aware of how you feel and doing something about it are the two best predictors of success.
We know that boredom leads to burnout. The following practical suggestions may help you deal with a boring job and reduce potential for burnout:
- Seek advice from others who aren’t bored on the job and apply what they tell you with caution.
- Consider creative ways of making your job more interesting. Share them with management and in work groups. Discuss how your suggestions could lead to greater productivity but don’t, for heaven’s sake, mention that you’re bored or that’s all they’ll hear.
- Consider trading jobs with others in your firm and see if that helps.
- Seek training to give you more skills to apply at work that could lead to different work assignments.
- Look at the job realistically and see if there are better and more satisfying ways of doing it.
- Take every opportunity to do new tasks.
- Make certain your personal life is full of positive experiences that balance the boredom you may feel at work.
- Volunteer for everything that may make your job more interesting and exciting.
- Look to all possible avenues to rise up the ranks so that you can control the job instead of it controlling you.
Boring activities are a part of most jobs. When boredom begins to outpace excitement at work, you know you have a problem. Be proactive. Don’t let boredom overwhelm you and become unmanageable. Take necessary steps early on to make changes that will reduce and even eliminate boredom at work and in your personal life. All too often they exit in tandem and can seriously affect your life satisfaction.